Wi-Fi 6E: What Is It, and How Is It Different From Wi-Fi 6?

A cityscape with Wi-Fi icons.Vasin Lee / Shutterstock.com

Wi-Fi 6 hardware is finally coming to market, and you’ll see more and more of it coming out throughout 2020. But people are already talking about something new: Wi-Fi 6E, which promises to further reduce Wi-Fi congestion.

What is Wi-Fi 6E?

Wi-Fi 6 and previous generations of Wi-Fi use the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz radio bands. A “Wi-Fi 6E” device is also capable of operating on the 6 GHz band.

The 6 GHz spectrum should work similarly to WiFi 6 on 5 GHz but offers additional channels without overlap. As the Wi-Fi Alliance says, Wi-Fi 6E allows “14 additional 80 MHz channels and 7 additional 160 MHz channels”. These channels would not overlap, which will help reduce congestion, especially in areas where the network lots operate.

All devices communicating on the 6 GHz spectrum would also be Wi-Fi 6 devices. No older device would use standards such as Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac). All devices on the 6 GHz channels will speak the same language and will be able to use New Wi-Fi congestion reduction features 6.

In other words, Wi-Fi 6E is Wi-Fi 6 (also known as 802.11ax) on 6 GHz.

RELATED: Wi-Fi 6: what’s different and why it’s important

Wi-Fi 6E awaits regulatory agencies

If 6 GHz is so useful, why weren’t existing Wi-Fi standards already using it? Well, they couldn’t. Regulators have not authorized Wi-Fi to use the 6 GHz band, instead of reserving it for other purposes.

Back October 2018, the United States Federal Communications Commission has proposed to offer 6 GHz spectrum for Wi-Fi and other “unlicensed” uses. This change was not yet made in January 2020, so Wi-Fi 6E devices cannot yet be launched in the United States. However, FCC President Ajit Pai said the FCC intends to offer this spectrum for Wi-Fi and other unlicensed services.

The pre-CES 2020 Wi-Fi Alliance ad Wi-Fi 6E recognizes this, referring to 6 GHz as “a significant part of the unauthorized spectrum that could soon be made available by regulators around the world”. Note the word “may” rather than the word “will” – this is up to government regulators, not industry.

When will Wi-Fi 6E hardware be available?

The FCC headquarters in Washington, DC.Mark Van Scyoc / Shutterstock.com

The Wi-Fi Alliance also says that “6E Wi-Fi devices should be available quickly after regulatory approvals of 6 GHz”.

Industry looks impatient for regulators to allow Wi-Fi 6. During CES 2020, Broadcom ad several system-on-a-chip products that router manufacturers can purchase to create Wi-Fi 6E compatible access points.

However, despite all the excitement and interest, there is still no official timetable for when regulators will make the spectrum available for unlicensed use. The equipment will likely be available soon after the regulatory change, but it is not known when this will happen. Wi-Fi 6E does not have a release date.

Wi-Fi greater than 6 GHz requires new devices

Wi-Fi 6E devices will be backward compatible with Wi-Fi 6 and previous Wi-Fi standards. But to take advantage of these new 6 GHz channels in Wi-Fi 6E, you’ll need to use devices that support it. In other words, you will only use Wi-Fi 6E after pairing a Wi-Fi 6E compatible client device (such as a laptop or smartphone) and a WI-Fi 6E compatible access point.

For example, even if you have multiple Wi-Fi 6 devices and a Wi-Fi 6E compatible router, none of your devices will communicate via Wi-FI 6E. They will all use Wi-Fi 6 on typical 5 GHz or 2.4 GHz channels.

RELATED: 5 GHz Wi-Fi isn’t always better than 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi

Don’t wait for Wi-Fi 6E…

In technology, there is always something new on the horizon. For Wi-FI right now, it’s Wi-Fi 6E.

Some Wi-Fi 6 devices, such as routers, laptops, smartphones, are already on sale. Many more will be released throughout 2020. Wi-Fi 6 isn’t an extreme upgrade in terms of speed, but it will lead to faster Wi-Fi with less wireless footprint and can -be even an extended battery life for your devices.

Meanwhile, Wi-Fi 6E is not there yet. There is no specific deadline for when the regulations will be changed, which will allow these devices to enter the market. Even after purchasing 6E Wi-Fi enabled devices, the main benefit will be reduced congestion via additional wireless channels. It’s a great long-term goal, but we don’t think it’s worth it if you plan on switching to Wi-Fi 6 equipment.

… But don’t rush to buy Wi-Fi 6,

Of course, you don’t necessarily have to run out of energy and buy a new Wi-Fi 6 compatible router today. Most of the devices you probably haven’t yet supported Wi-Fi 6.

For example, Apple’s iPhone 11 models support Wi-Fi 6, but older iPhone models do not. Even the new Apple MacBook Pro models released in late 2019 do not include Wi-Fi 6 support. New high-end Samsung phones like the Galaxy S10 have Wi-Fi 6 hardware, but not most Android phones. Only a handful of PC laptops support Wi-Fi 6. It’s very early on Wi-Fi 6.

Chances are, over the next few years, the new devices you buy will increasingly have Wi-Fi 6. But you probably won’t get Wi-Fi 6E on these devices, just Wi -Fi 6. It’s perfect. Wi-Fi 6E looks nice, but it’s not there yet.

Note that the 6 GHz band for Wi-Fi 6E is different from the 60 GHz band, which WiGig will benefit from. The 6 GHz Wi-Fi 6E will work similarly to the 5 GHz Wi-Fi, while the WiGig is ideal for faster data transfer rates over shorter distances.

RELATED: What is WiGig and how is it different from Wi-Fi 6?

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